NEW YORK - Getting students to exercise more might not just address obesity issues but also improve their grades. A new US study reports that physically fit students tend to score higher in tests than their less fit peers.
Test scores dropped more than one point for each extra minute it took middle and high school students to complete a 1.6km run/walk fitness test, according to Dr William McCarthy and his colleagues at the University of California in Los Angeles.
Schools and parents seeking to optimise their students' academic performance should take heed, Dr McCarthy said.
For optimal brain function 'it's good to be both aerobically fit and to have a healthy body shape'.
Dr McCarthy and colleagues compared physical fitness and body weight measures with scores on California's standardised maths, reading and language tests among 749 fifth-graders, 761 seventh-graders and 479 ninth-graders who attended schools in Southern California between 2002 and 2003.
About half of the students were girls, 60 per cent were white, 26 per cent were of Hispanic ethnicity and about 7 per cent each were African American and Asian/Pacific Islander ethnic descent. Almost 32 per cent of the students were overweight and about 28 per cent were obese, the researchers reported in The Journal of Paediatrics.
The study estimated students' aerobic fitness according to their 1.6km run/walk time on a flat track. With a 15-minute maximum time allowed to complete the fitness test, the boys averaged slightly less than 10 minutes, while the girls averaged a little less than 11 minutes.
Dr McCarthy's team found that nearly two-thirds of the students (65 per cent) fell below the state fitness standard for their age and gender. Compared with these students, those who met or exceeded fitness standards had higher average academic test scores. Allowing for age, social and economic status, gender, ethnicity and body size did not significantly alter this association.
Compared with students of desirable weight, overweight students also scored significantly lower in academic tests, the researchers found.
These findings, Dr McCarthy's team notes, confirm and extend those of previous investigations. The researchers say further studies are needed to figure out why aerobic fitness may play a role in academic performance.
If future studies confirm a cause-and-effect link between lower fitness and reduced academic performance, 'schools will have to reverse their recent disinvestment in physical education ostensibly for the purposes of boosting student achievement', the team concluded.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.